Taking Our Vote for Granted Ends Now

A Latino community leader reflects on the election

by Juan Carlos Valle

Remember when performance mattered during political debates? Remember when it came down to whose ideas and proposals were best?

It has been many years since we have heard visionaries discuss and debate on the best plan to move us beyond poverty and into a more efficient, responsible and collaborative civic life. Instead, during our latest political cycle, insults, smears and sharp rhetoric took center stage again.

Needless to say, I am happy that nasty, mean-spirited, racist and polarizing political ads are ending. At least for now. Candidates are no longer interested in engaging in a dialogue on how to serve voters to address basic needs and to ensure broad participation regardless of political affiliation. Black, Indigenous and People of Color are groups politicians routinely ignore. Politicians are overdue in engaging people of color in meaningful dialogue — dialogue that goes beyond the usual, patronizing talking points. They only remember us when their re-election is on the line. Time and time again they take our vote for granted.

The political tide and solid blue base we enjoy in Oregon is now challenged as the people whom politicians pretend to represent are weary and motivated to make changes. It is no coincidence that the supremely popular Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont, and President Joe Biden visited Oregon to stump for like-minded Oregonians and to ensure the state stays blue. 

When career politicians like Sanders and Biden are so concerned about losing a traditionally Democrat state like ours, it is not only a sign of the tide turning, but also it signals the strong discontent we people of color have with the political system. Is it any wonder people of color seek other political options? It is obvious that underrepresented communities must tear down the ivory tower so we can be candidates for mayor, county commissioner, senator, congressional representative or governor. 

For this to happen, the arrogant posturing and faux allyship of progressive leaders must be exposed. While at a meeting between several community leaders and Lane County Democratic Party leaders several years ago, its vice chair matter-of-factly declared he only saw us — people of color — as “precinct people.” 

A precinct person is a very important and crucial position, but that is all he saw as potential for us. In addition, he expected us to kiss his ring. Rather than a proactive and well-meaning outreach approach and recruitment of talented, educated and experienced people of color, he and the others have staunchly defended the status quo.

For decades, our votes have been taken for granted. For several political cycles, the new president of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Lane County (LULAC) has requested that city leaders reach out to it post-election and craft a plan of meaningful inclusion. Unfortunately, it has fallen on deaf ears. However, new city leaders seem to be more open-minded and a lot more in touch with their community, thus it would appear they don’t take us for granted. 

Only time will tell if they will have a real interest in ensuring community representation for all and at all levels. Voting is our real voice and our right to choose who will serve us in political office without fear of intimidation and/ or violence. As 60 Minutes host, Scott Pelley said on Oct. 30, “It’s the vote that holds America together. A belief that with a ballot, voices are heard, disputes are addressed and there’s always another chance. Countries without this belief tend to be in bondage or at war.”

As the dust settles on who got elected and what ballot measures got the green light, many questions, no doubt, will remain on how to continue to voice our grievances and diverging views. 

Sadly, the deep political wounds likely will never heal. We must demand those wishing to represent us truly represent us, not merely their own interests. Civic life and being civil should go hand in hand.

Juan Carlos Valle is a longtime community leader and founding president of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Lane County. 

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